Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: Snapfon ezONE-C Senior mobile phone (GSM, unlocked)

I bought my 83 yo mother the unlocked GSM Snapfon ezONE-C Senior Cell Phone with Big Buttons for about $80 (it's $60 now) along with its car charger (forgetting she doesn't drive any more!). I then carried it to her home in Montreal and activated on a Roger's 40 cent/min (but 0$/day) PayGo plan.

My mother likes her Mac Mini and iPad, but she's largely blind, quite arthritic, and has peripheral neuropathy reducing her sense of touch. So most phones won't work for her. This was the only phone we could find that she might be able to use. She needs, for example, to be able to call for help when Montreal's sometimes unreliable wheelchair transport service fails to show up - leaving her stuck in her wheelchair as snow swirls, water freezes, and hungry wolves approach over the ice.

It is impressive how few devices are made for people like my mother.  I assume the demand isn't there. Certainly if she were younger she might do well with a VoiceOver iPhone, but the combination of age and diminished touch make VoiceOver hard for her. In any case that was my best guess, but the next best choice to this $60 phone is probably a $700 iPhone 5.

Based on limited use, here are my impressions of the device. I'll also add a modified version of this review to I'll start with the bad, then the good. Bottom line: I think it will work, but I'd rather buy a better version for $100 than the current phone for $60.

The Bad

  • It doesn't get its time settings off the mobile network. Very weird.
  • I fear it doesn't  persistently store its configuration. I don't want to test this, but I think prolonged removal of the battery will wipe all setup - and setup is a bit painful. File this under "suspicion" not proven. Settings do survive a quick battery swap. (Maybe it's storing some data on the SIM card, in which case I might have been confused by a SIM swap.)
  • This is a very Chinese product -- feels like it was built for the Chinese or Japanese market. That is, it has a number of weird add-on features like an FM radio and a flashlight that mostly add complexity and seem weird for the US market. On the other hand, I think my mother might actually use the FM radio. It uses the ear set as an antenna. In my testing it worked well with an iPhone ear set and with iPod ear buds despite the manual saying only Nokia and SNAPFON earphones work.)
  • It has too many features that can simply cause confusion and will never be used, like 'conference call' and 'call waiting'. Even SMS is of dubious value. The radio introduces many options.
  • The power connector is small and hard for my mother to find. I stuck a rubber matt near it so she could find it. It is easily confused with the headphone jack.
  • It feels fragile and unreliable. We're not talking iPhone 5 build. I'd happily pay $40 more for better build quality.
  • Display is small and text layout is a bit off. I suspect it was designed to show characters, not Roman letters.
  • Buttons take some push -- they are cheap!
  • It comes with "PureTalk"; it's probably not the best PayGo solution but it's not entirely bad. For the US market I'd suggest H2O Wireless instead.

The Good

  • Big buttons!
  • Ringer is LOUD and voice loud even at intermediate settings.
  • The instruction manual is large type.
  • I could get a camera lanyard into the lanyard hoop with a bit of fiddling (essential accessory, should be bundled with phone).
  • It speaks numbers as they are entered. Great feature!
  • Seems to have very long battery life.
  • The quick dial numbers will work well I think, even though we decided not to enable the SOS feature for now.
  • Yes, the flashlight and radio are quirky, but my mother might actually come to like them.

I created a large print 1 page handout for my mother that included a simplified version of usage directions and the numbers I programmed in for her.

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